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a rose by any other name?

December 14, 2010

[NYTimes] What is it about the discovery of a new work by a textbook name? Headlines over the years have trumpeted this Bruegel, a possible Velázquez unearthed from a university museum basement in Connecticut, a supposed Michelangelo in the foyer of some New York town house where countless people over the years passed it before anybody made a peep. And much more.

The inevitable fuss that followed these announcements can be only partly chalked up to the popular fantasy of finding treasure in the attic, or to the obvious prospect of seeing more great art. Truth be told, new discoveries aren’t always great. The art may have been in plain sight all along, like that Michelangelo statue, which languished in the French Embassy’s cultural services office on Fifth Avenue for most of the last century before its (now much doubted) attribution. Or it may have been some murky painting already hanging in a museum, with a label saying it was the handiwork of an unknown “school of” someone or someplace, or by some obscure artist whose name didn’t make us pause.

Then the news breaks about its ostensible author, and we slap our heads, yet again, for relying on labels rather than on our eyes, a lesson finally learned, we tell ourselves before admiring the discovery because of its fancier label, as if anything had really changed. (read)

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